Activists organising counter protests to coincide with this weekend’s Reclaim Australia rallies have vowed to turn out in force in spite of threats of violence from far-right groups, with the two groups set to come face to face in major cities around the country.
Organisers in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide told New Matilda the counter demonstrations would take place in the same location as the anti-Islamic events, to help make sure their opposition was not ignored by the media and send a message to anti-Islamic groups.
Omar Hassan, one of the organisers of the Sydney counter protest, said the purpose of the rally was to send a “clear message in response to their racist, fascist ideologies”.
He rejected the idea it was a provocation to hold the counter demonstrations at the same location.
“I think it’s provocative for neo-Nazis and the extreme right to think they can organise demonstrations in our CBD and, as leftists, I believe it is our duty to challenge them and make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
The counter protests are being marshalled by a coalition of left wing and student groups.
Far right groups associated with the Reclaim movement have been making violent threats online in recent weeks, leading to calls for anti-racist activists to stay away from the events.
In a post from his Great Aussie Patriot Facebook page, Shermon Burgess, pictured below, who has emerged as a popular face of the movement, encouraged supports of Reclaim Australia and the more radical United Patriots Front group to bring “Aussie flags” and “mates” to demonstrations on the weekend.
“The great unwashed left crowd will be there stinking in all their communist glory. Fun and games,” he said.
Grace Hill, the general secretary of the Flinders University Student Association, said only a small number of counter protesters had showed up to the original Reclaim Australia rally but that larger numbers were expected this time around.
“I don’t feel intimidated. They’ve made those same threats to us but I think ultimately it’s a lot of online bluster.”
Attention on the rallies spiked this week after Nationals MP George Christensen announced his intention to attend the Mackay event, provoking a furious response, and putting pressure on members of the government to explain the move.
Christensen hit back in an opinion piece, and said ‘hell would freeze over’ before he pulled out of the event.
The Nationals MP said a “Sharia-style dispensation of justice” was being “quietly applied in Australian mosques”.
“It’s a form of “justice” that perpetuates the oppression and abuse of women and yet we don’t dare speak of it because we will be instantly attacked as racists.”
Hassan rejected Christensen’s defence, and said “quite a number” of people had shared the Facebook page advertising the counter protest since the MP announced he would be attending the Mackay march.
“The idea that conservative Liberals are passionate about women’s rights is laughable,” he said.
Protesters at the first round of the Reclaim rallies were snapped with Swastika tattoos, while one national organiser was busted in an online rant against Aboriginal people before the event.
One former Reclaim Australia organiser went on ABC radio this week apologising for his involvement in the movement, telling Jon Faine he had seen homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism among some of the other organisers.
“I’ve actually spoken to own of the female organisers of Reclaim who’s scared of Shermon [Burgess] turning up to the rallies,” he said.
Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the Executive Council of the Australian Jewry, said he didn’t know whether the new round of rallies would include a reappearance of Nazi regalia, but said his organisation would not hesitate to speak out if that was the case.
He did not directly criticise Christensen’s decision to appear at one of the rallies but said: “As a general rule as a community, like most other Australians, we would expect MPs would be very careful not to associate themselves with any overt expressions of racism or display of racist symbols and we can only hope that his presence there will act to curb that sort of thing from happening.”
One of the organisers of the Melbourne counter-protest, Kieran Bennett, said the Reclaim Rallies could not be allowed to go ahead uninterrupted.
“Reclaim Australia can’t be allowed to pursue a campaign of Islamophobia on the streets of our city because if they do the result is increased racism, increased attacks on the Muslim communities in this city,” he said.
Hassan said the policies of both Labor and Liberal governments were demonising Muslim Australians.
While Melbourne and Adelaide events will take place today, protests in other cities are planned for Sunday.
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